Jana Riess on What’s Crazy About Religion on ‘Game of Thrones’

Warning: This post contains spoilers through the end of Season 7. Also, winter is coming. But you probably knew that.

There’s a scene in Season 2 of Game of Thrones in which a high priestess for whom red is the new black gives birth to a . . . thing. A smoke monster, writhing and fearsome. Which then proceeds to murder her master’s chief rival for the throne.

Fair enough. This is Game of Thrones, after all; any candidate for power is also a prime candidate for gruesome death. But what’s different and unexpected about HBO’s hit show is that the smoke monster and many other mysterious events aren’t just drawing upon a technology of magic, like other products of the fantasy genre. They are the byproducts of functional, powerful religions.

These religions are legit—with one glaring exception we’ll get to in a minute.

Consider the priestess, aka the “Red Woman,” aka Melisandre. (Characters on GOT tend to have at least three different names or titles. Just run with it.) She serves the “Lord of Light,” R’hllor, who demands not only his followers’ loyalty in exchange for miracles but also their exclusivity: some of the more violent story arcs of the show stem from the fatal iconoclasm as members of the “Red Brotherhood” destroy the statues—and devotees—of other faiths.

Yet following the Lord of Light has its up side, offering miracles in spades. Future events can be divined by gazing into flames, for example. And death has little meaning because resurrection is an attested reality—not just once but several times over. Unlike in traditional Christianity, where Jesus was raised from the dead to save others from sin and grant them eternal life, resurrections on Game of Thrones are often for the purpose of exacting revenge on enemies. These resurrections exhibit little love, but much power.

And power is what matters on Game of Thrones. While the Lord of Light, like the “mother of dragons” Daenerys Targaryen, uses fire to subdue enemies, their common enemy—the stuff-of-nightmares Night King currently marching from the north—marshals all the power of ice and death. This necromancer with ice chips for eyes is adding to his army every time he kills off a person (or a dragon) from the other side.

There are other religions too, most with a power all their own. In the free city of Braavos, a cult has arisen around death, which has many names and faces. The “faceless men” who rise through the ranks of this religion gain the power to assume someone else’s identity in order to carry out the assassinations required by their god.

These “faceless men” (and girls) serve a particularly brutal god, but in fact most of the religions worth their salt on Game of Thrones are brutal in nature. (The Drowned God, anyone?) The one that’s not overtly bloodthirsty is also, not coincidentally, the only truly worthless religion in the entire pantheon. The plain-vanilla state religion of “the Seven” or “the new gods” features, among other symbols, the seven-hued rainbow and the seven-pointed star in its iconography. It’s almost like a wink and a nod to the idea that religions ought to at least try to be about rainbows or something, well, nice.

Click here to read more.
Source: Religion News Service